Some of the best dances – by Balanchine, Morris, Tharp – have been made to romantic ballads, but Danish Dance Theatre’s Love Songs is not one of them. In fact, the second offering in the inaugural New York edition of Ice Hot: A Nordic Dance Festival has little to do with the love song, title notwithstanding.
English artistic director Tim Rushton has set the hour-long work for his 12 dancers to a variety of popular ditties. In warm, loose cadences, Swedish-American jazz singer Caroline Henderson describes how love makes us adore what we do not admire (“My Funny Valentine”), blurs our sense of self (“Lilac Wine”), tips easily towards despair (“All of Me”) and so forth. Love Songs is not so subtle or expansive.
Rushton does not interpret the lyrics, submit them to visual pun or even use them as a springboard for love notions of his own. Rather, he treats them as topical wallpaper as he works the same patch of romance – the casual encounter – in episode after episode. The performers showboat, flirt, hungrily enjoy each other, and eventually wander off alone.
Best to watch Love Songs as if you too were out on the town, distracted by chatter and the clink of drinks, with only half an eye to the entertainment. Close inspection reveals the choreography to be a bag of other people’s tricks, stripped of original conviction and intent. Love Songs breaks down the fourth wall before blithely building it up again. It borrows the wide, pliéd stance of Batsheva choreographer Ohad Naharin’s ungainly creatures but not the unmasked vulnerability that justifies it. It slips from hip-hop robotics to comically unintelligible mime without marking the difference.
Love Songs, which lands in Boston this weekend, certainly does no harm. An hour spent in the company of nuanced, full-bodied and likeable dancers proves perfectly pleasant. But what is the point of a “Nordic dance” festival if it cannot demonstrate the distinctiveness of Nordic dance? Next time, the Ice Hot consortium should send the Swedes – they at least have a history of modern dance – or whoever the most daring delegates are. “Feel-good” dance never feels good enough.